This is a post about my personal health journey. I'm not just talking about losing weight and lowering cholesterol, although they are a part of it. It's about dealing with my increasing episodes of heart palpitations.
First, although most palpitations are harmless, if you are experiencing undiagnosed heart palpitations, it's best that you have it checked out by a doctor. I've had sporadic heart palpitations for most of my life and 25 plus years ago I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse (MVP). Nothing to worry about, they said. When the palpitations increased recently, I decided it was time to look again.
A stress echo test revealed that I actually don't have MVP, but just a small leak. Apparently, the test for measuring MVP has changed over the years and many were diagnosed with MVP that didn't have it. The stress echo test revealed that my heart valves are all good, but why the palps? My cardiologist's first inclination was to medicate and do more tests because one of the causes can be plaques or blockages in your heart.
My cardiologist did not ask any questions about changes to my diet or what was happening in my life.
Although I wore a heart monitor for a month, I was not willing to do a nuclear stress test because of the radiation exposure. The monitor revealed some non-dangerous palpitations and a few atrial fibrillations. (Note: the decision to forgo a nuclear stress test was purely a personal decision. This test does offer a relatively non-invasive way to measure blood flow to your heart muscle both at rest and during stress).
So off I went to do some research. I discovered that there's another simple ultrasound test that can reveal a lot about your heart. Why not do something less invasive first, I reasoned. It is actually recommended by Dr. Fuhrman.
It's a scan of your carotid arteries in your neck and is about 95% correlated with what's happening in your heart. I found out that, happily, the scan did not reveal any blockages or plaque. Although, not definitive, it's a good indicator.
But again, why all of the palps?? I also asked Dr. Fuhrman what he would recommend (through my membership on his website) and he said to loose some weight, stay strict on his diet, take 81 mg of aspirin and see how I do. Luckily, Dr. Fuhrman's diet can reverse heart disease.
During my research, I discovered there are all kinds of causes for heart palpitations - valve problems, acid reflux, H. pylori bacteria (can cause ulcers), a hiatal hernia, a allergic histamine response, thyroid problems, hypoglycemia or anxiety in addition to heart disease. Interestingly, one of the reasons can be a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
A light went off when I realized that I had pretty much cut out all dairy, meat and wheat from my diet and the only sources of vitamin B outside of a supplement (or nutritional yeast.) Another important amino acid for your heart is taurine which is from, you guessed it, meat and seafood.
Although I did occasionally take a B-12 supplement, I upped my intake of vitamin B complex and of taurine daily. My blood work did not show any magnesium, calcium, or potassium deficiencies, but I also upped intake of those.
Unfortunately, all of this uncertainty caused me to have anxiety, something that I've dealt with on and off most of my life and can tend to make heart palpitations worse. Interestingly, Vitamin B and taurine deficiencies can increase anxiety and depression. The good news, for me, is that my heart palpitations have reduced greatly over the past few weeks and so has the anxiety. I've discovered many ways to reduce anxiety from my research.
One of the easiest is deep breathing and slow exhalation. I plan on doing a whole post on anxiety so look for that in the near future. As a teaser, check out heartmath.org. Their computer program for increasing heart coherence really works, at least for me. And, I'm seeing a hypnotherapist. (healthhabitshypnosis.com) She is great and I'm finally getting a handle on the anxiety that has plagued me for many years.
More good news, too. I've lost 6 pounds and my total cholesterol went down 39 points on my last test. Another testament to the benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
I'm still on the journey.
I'm not sure that Vitamin B and taurine are the answers. I walk vigorously for 30 minutes a day and eat well. I'm seeing a naturopath in a few weeks for more thorough blood work. In the meantime, I've found many resources to help me. I'll keep you updated on how it's going and share more in my post about anxiety. Does your personal health journey include dealing with a health issue?
Take heart in knowing that you're being proactive when eating a plant-based diet. It can actually help in many situations like type 2 diabetes, heart disease or high cholesterol among other things. And, remember, if you have given up meat, dairy and / or grains, don't forget to take your Vitamin B-12 supplement (or nutritional yeast) since it's not available in plants.
I'm aiming for a total cholesterol of around 158 which is what it was when I was 36 years old. And, for an LDL below 100 which is recommended by Dr. Fuhrman. I think it's possible. Find more inspiration in this article, Cholesterol Protection for Life, at Dr. Furman's website.